4 Democrats seek to be AG in first race since 1992

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Democratic attorney general primary narrowed Tuesday as Sen. Chris Koster and Rep. Margaret Donnelly pulled away the rest of the field. Koster's lead narrowed as votes from Donnelly's home, St. Louis County, and the city of St. Louis were reported. About 80 percent of the state's precincts were reported by press time.

At the same time, Rep. Jeff Harris fell even further behind, though less than one-third of the votes from his home of Boone County have been reported.

Koster has claimed victories in counties throughout the southern portion of the state while Donnelly has won in the northwest corner, and has taken about half the votes in the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County.

It's the first time Democrats have had to pick a new attorney general candidate since Jay Nixon claimed a narrow plurality in a four-way 1992 primary. Nixon, now the Democratic governor candidate, is the state's longest serving attorney general.

The campaign to replace him between Koster, Donnelly and Harris has been rancorous, with most of the criticism aimed at Koster. Molly Williams, a Kansas City lawyer and social studies teacher, also sought the Democratic nod but did not campaign or raise money.

Sen. Michael Gibbons, of Kirkwood, is the only Republican on Tuesday's ballot.

The three major Democratic candidates have sparred over qualifications, fundraising, party credentials and even whether the attorney general office's primary duties are criminal prosecutions or consumer protection. In most of the tussles, Harris and Donnelly seemed to tag-team against Koster.

Harris, the former House minority leader, and Donnelly focused their criticisms on the fundraising tactics and party bona fides of Koster, who switched from Republican to Democrat shortly before he formally announced he was running for attorney general a year ago.

The Associated Press reported in early July that Koster's paid campaign staffers had coordinated the shuffling of money among various committees so that big donors could give more than otherwise allowed by contribution limits.

Koster, a former Cass County prosecutor who raised substantially more money than his rivals, contends his fundraising efforts were legal. He has argued that his support for stem-cell research, organized labor and other issues fit in the beliefs of the Democratic Party.

Koster's campaign has geared toward law enforcement and aired numerous television ads billing himself as "all prosecutor, no politics." Harris and Donnelly, meanwhile, focused on consumer protections, floating proposals geared at scams and consumer annoyances such as telemarketers and robo-calls.

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